Joan MacLeod: secrets of The Secret Garden


Now with over 10 plays under her belt and a lifetime in theatre, Canadian playwright Joan MacLeod has returned to The Banff Centre to revisit and remount her first opera libretto: The Secret Garden.

“Because I wasn’t a playwright when I wrote the libretto the first time around - my background was in poetry - I didn’t have such a strong understanding of dramatic structure as I do now,” says MacLeod, who originally wrote the libretto in 1985. “This version has been updated: we’re being more specific about the time it takes place in, and we’re balancing out the first and second acts, since originally the first act was way longer and way stronger.”

Playwright and librettist Joan MacLeod, on the set of The Secret Garden in the Margaret Greenham Theatre. Photo: Don Lee.

In 1985, MacLeod met with composer Stephen McNeff in a music practice hut at The Banff Centre, and together they spent 4 days brainstorming for the opera. “We had recipe cards, and we broke the novel into scenes that we thought were dramatically interesting, then we posted them all over the wall and tried to find a shape,” explains MacLeod. “Then we went our separate ways, and I just jumped in blind, with no experience, and wrote it. Afterwards, I felt like I could rhyme anything !”

It was MacLeod’s first professional gig, directed by Kelly Robinson, and the opera went on to win a Dora award for Best Musical six months later. “Stephen, Kelly, and I were all just starting out in our careers then. Over 25 years later, it’s a really special experience to come together in Banff, and revisit the opera once more.”


About Author

Alexa is the Communications work study at The Banff Centre. She graduated from Queen's in 2011, and will be pursuing an MA in Media/Communications studies in the fall. She loves working in the arts and using her imagination, and she may (or may not) be a little obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer...

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